“I don’t fit in.”
The team were taking a moment to rest after the fighting, in a quiet place that Anthony knew. It was a quiet hillside that overlooked the ocean, and a gentle breeze was blowing. Most of them were silently contemplating the view of the water, but off to one side, two were talking quietly.
“I don’t know if the others think of me as part of the team.”
Aata frowned. “What makes you say that?”
“I am…different from all the rest of them.”
“We’re all different, M’kk. That is the sort of people we are.”
“You know what I mean. The rest of you are human, excepting perhaps Helena. I am not even from the same world. I am set apart, I am not accepted. Not really.”
“You think none of us accept you for who you are?”
The alien smiled, showing off their sparkling teeth. “Of course I do not think that about you. I think even some of our enemies think of you as a friend.” Aata grinned back. “But the others…I am not sure.”
“Well, Anthony is a quiet one where his own feelings are concerned, but I believe he thinks very well of you. Hugh is not cold, just British. He thinks he’s being polite. In any case, the two of you have worked together enough that I’m sure you know he likes you.” M’kk gave a little shrug, but nodded. “And Helena…”
As if summoned, the imposing winged warrior was suddenly standing beside them. Her eyes glowed down, her face hard and cold. Sometimes she looked less like a flesh and blood angel and more like one carved from stone, and right now she looked as if her sculptor had been in a particularly righteous and judgmental mood.
“Tempest. We need to talk.”
They suppressed their nerves. “Yes?”
“During that last fight, against those human minions. You took it easy on them.”
A little frown appeared, a crack in their composure. “I wouldn’t say that.”
“I know how powerful you are. You could have ended things much more quickly, had you chosen to do so. Instead you tried to be gentle.”
“I tried not to hurt them too badly, if that is what you mean.”
“It is. They chose their path. They were not worthy of your compassion, and giving it to the undeserving looks more like weakness than mercy. Your duty is to the innocent, and to your teammates. Think about that the next time you are tempted to be soft.”
Her message delivered, she stalked away. M’kk gave a look to Aata, and the big man nodded reluctantly. “Yes, Helena can be somewhat…unforgiving. There is a reason they call her Fanatic, after all. She pushes everyone to do their utmost, herself most of all, and that can mean finding fault in the actions of those around her. But that does not mean she considers you any less a member of the team. If anything, it-”
Anthony was the first to sense something wrong. He cocked his head as though listening for a quiet sound, some discordant note breaking through life’s symphony. Immediately, the rest of the team were focused on him, ready to move if he ordered it. They might be a new team, and there might have been some friction, but trust was there too.
“What is it?”
“I’m…not quite sure.” He whistled a quick tune, and a bubble popped to life in front of him, colour swirling into a map of the world that zoomed, zoomed, and focused in on a large concrete structure near the coastline.
“That’s the nuclear power plant, it’s not far from here.” said Cosmic. “Is there trouble?”
“Could be. Some sort of disturbance in the energy flows around there, like there’s been a large energy discharge that’s pushing the ley lines…outwards.”
“A discharge? Do you mean the plant has exploded!?”
The Adept shook his head, lips pursed. “No, nothing that size, and I think this was outside the plant. It’s hard to sense, something about the damage is making it difficult for my powers to focus.”
“Still,” said Haka, “we can’t risk it. That plant is too close to the city. If something is happening there that’s powerful enough to affect the ley lines, then it’s a threat we can’t ignore.”
Minutes later they were soaring through the air – Fanatic and the Argent Adept flying under their own power, the others aboard a large golden disc formed by Captain Cosmic’s will. The nuclear plant came in sight, cooling towers reaching up from far below, and they started to descend. The place looked uglier as it got closer – a huge expanse of densely-built grey stone, bland and shapeless.
Fanatic narrowed her eyes. “There’s something…it looks like a crater. Perhaps a weapon was fired here?”
Argent nodded. “Perhaps. Captain, let’s land over there, I want to have a closer look.”
They landed in the car park, just near the crater. It was enormous, at least thirty feet across, full of tumbled shards of concrete with patches of earth showing through.
“No scorch marks, no sign of an explosion. Not a missile then.”
“No, something landed here. Something large, and heavy.” Haka spoke with authority, having made more than his share of impact craters in his time as a hero.
There was a crackling boom from the entrance to the power station, and the heroes’ heads snapped around. Fanatic took to the air, the others hurrying along close behind. A shot rang through the air, and the angel dropped sharply, landing hard on the guard who had fired it.
The uniformed woman shrieked. “I’m sorry! Don’t hurt me!”
“We’re not here to hurt you,” said the Adept, his voice soft and gentle. “Fanatic, let her go.”
Fanatic frowned, but did as he said, even offering a hand to help the woman back to her feet. Cosmic looked around the entrance. Something had gone through it, hard – the doors were smashed apart, and more rubble was strewn about, steel protruding from the broken concrete.
The guard was dusting herself off, and avoiding Fanatic’s eyes. Of course, a lot of people tended to avoid those eyes. “Sorry for shooting at you, I just…didn’t recognise you. I thought you were with him.”
“Him?” asked Anthony, “Him who?”
“I don’t know. He landed over there and smashed his way inside. I don’t know who got hurt or how badly, he just – he walked right through us. I couldn’t do anything.”
“Of course not, of course. You did everything to stop him. Nobody could have expected any more from you.” He nodded thoughtfully. “I can see you need to rest, and to heal. Please, sleep.” He whistled a sequence of five low, soft notes, and the woman’s eyelids closed. He caught her as she slumped backwards, lowered her gently to lie against the wall.
Captain Cosmic had spotted something else. “Adept, look there!” He looked – a couple of bodies were lying half-buried in the wreckage. He pulled a horn out of the air and blew into it, harsh strong sounds booming and echoing around the team. In response, the rubble leaped into the air and danced past him, out into the parking lot, where it dropped. The bodies revealed from under the rubble were those of a couple more guards, and they were badly hurt. Argent rushed over to them and knelt.
“Everyone, you need to go on without me for now. I have to make sure these people are stable before I leave them.”
Fanatic was the first to respond, gripping her sword tightly and moving in, leaving the other three to follow in her wake – Cosmic in the middle, then Haka and Tempest bringing up the rear. As they went, they gathered themselves for a fight, Haka drawing in power and Cosmic forming a golden sword and shield. Tempest had nothing so flashy to do, but they reached out with their senses, felt the air as they rushed by, and held themself ready to use it.
There was another crashing bang from ahead, and Fanatic accelerated, the prospect of a villain to smite making her reckless. She rounded the corner, the others close behind, and was the first to see their enemy.
The thing was shaped like a human, but enormous, its height and bulging muscles making it a giant even compared with Haka. That wasn’t the only strange thing about its looks – the creature was a deep red, with black markings on its head and body, and eyes that glowed back at the heroine. It grinned, and pounded gloved fists together.
“Hah. I wondered when I would get a real fight.”
The other three heroes appeared, but the thing only grinned wider, and the reason became apparent when Cosmic said: “Borr. I had a hunch it might be you.”
“You know this thing?” asked Haka.
“I’ve fought him before. Never on Earth, though. What are you doing here, Borr? Didn’t our last fight teach you anything?”
His grin became nastier, and when he spoke it was in a deep, rumbling bass. “I came looking for you. For your world. I knew if it produced something like you, Captain, there would have to be power there for me to feed on. Oh, and this reactor is more than I dreamed of. As for what our fights taught me-”
Suddenly, the alien lunged forwards. Fanatic surged to meet him, but he knocked her aside with a blow of his massive fists. Those same fists reached for Cosmic, and closed around his weapon. The Captain yelled, pulled back, and when he couldn’t rip it free, he released it…and it vanished. Dissipated completely into the air.
He blinked in disbelief. Haka leaped into the fray, directing a heavy uppercut into the giant’s jaw. It made Borr stumble a little, then he shook his head and responded with a backhanded strike that hurled the hero into a wall, leaving him dazed. His attention turned inexorably back to Cosmic.
“You cannot hope to defeat me now, Captain. I will drain you, drink the power from your reactor, and then I will be unstoppable!”
A crackling blue bolt of energy ripped across the room, tearing into Borr. He grunted, and was driven back, and Tempest sent a second bolt at him. He took another, smaller step backwards, regained his footing a little – then he laughed. “Thank you! More power!” He lunged, grabbed Cosmic by the head, and the man went limp as his power was sucked away, his bright shield fading into nothing. Borr grinned, hurled Captain Cosmic’s body at Tempest, and plunged a fist into the wall with a huge grinding crash. As he pulled his fist free, the crack widened and spread up the wall, rubble fell clear and a thin stream of water started to flow out. “Goodbye, Captain!” And he turned and lumbered down the hallway.
Haka, his head clearing, glanced around at the damage, and saw the water leaking from the wall where Borr had smashed it. He ran over and hurled his body against the crack, pressing desperately to support the crumbling mass.
“Tempest, Fanatic! Hurry!”
The two of them dashed over, and Fanatic helped him to brace himself against the weight of the crumbling wall.
“What is wrong?”
“This water…it’s radioactive. Waste from cooling the reactor. I can survive it, but if this wall goes or the pipes burst further, it could cause a lot of trouble.”
“What can we do?”
Haka shook his head. “Leave me. I’ll keep this supported until the Adept gets here or Cosmic recovers, they can repair it properly. The two of you need to stop Borr. If he keeps causing damage like this, the results could be catastrophic. Go, take him down!”
Tempest and Fanatic shared a glance, and she nodded. “We will stop him, no matter what it takes. Come on, Tempest.”
Borr had opened up a large lead on them, and they raced through the corridors of the power station, ignoring every branch in the corridor to head directly for the reactor itself.
Fanatic broke their silence. “I meant what I said. We must do everything that we can to stop this monster.”
“I’ve rarely seen you so driven,” said Tempest. And that was saying something, given how ferociously she usually threw herself into their fights. “What kind of a disaster could this cause, if he harms the reactor?”
Her face was hard, lips almost snarling. “Eight million people live within fifty miles of here. If we can’t stop Borr…who knows how many of them will survive. The destruction of this place might kill every last one.”
Tempest’s face froze for a moment with shock, and when they spoke there was a shiver in their voice. “I can’t understand who would put such a thing near such a population centre. My people draw power safely from our natural environment, we do not risk death just to light our homes.” They shook their head.
“Now is not the time to discuss why people use nuclear power. They were not planning for an alien invasion when they built it.”
That ended that conversation, and just in time, as they arrived at the huge doors that blocked the entrance to the reactor dome. They had clearly been imposing, thick metal that would stop both unauthorised visitors and radiation itself from passing through. All of that was for nothing, now – the metal was torn and melted, smashed inwards by massive alien fists.
“Follow my lead.” Fanatic stepped through the breach into the dome. The space was dominated by the enormous metal structure of the reactor, towering up above their heads. Borr was standing atop it, his back to the doorway, and he was laughing to himself as he pulled a control rod, wrenching it gradually out of the reactor. The machine was resisting him, but feebly, and alarms all through the room signalled the danger he was creating. Not that he seemed concerned. “Such power. Such incredible power! Oh, it will be mine.”
“Stop there, villain!”
Borr turned, and saw the angel and the alien following him. He laughed out loud. “I see you fools are stronger than I thought! Wonderful!” He leaped down and grabbed up a fallen piece of the door, hurling it at the heroes. Tempest dodged out of the way, while Fanatic flew up over it and swooped in, her sword flashing down. The huge alien ducked back, but not quickly enough to avoid a gash being torn down his chest. He shot a quick jab at Fanatic’s head, and she moved back, circling him cautiously.
“You’re a strong one. I might have to take you seriously.”
She didn’t say anything in response, just snarled and swung her blade, driving the monster a little way back. Tempest was to one side, uncertain. They could try more lightning, but that risked making things worse, and most of their other powers were limited by being stuck inside in a concrete dome.
Looking around, they spotted a couple of nuclear engineers, cowering near their controls. They rushed over, keeping the skirmishing angel and monster in view as much as they could.
One of the civilians flinched back when the alien hero approached, but the other – a woman with dark, curly hair that hung around her face in a loose cloud – said “You’re Tempest, right? I’ve heard of you. Are you here to save us from that thing?”
They nodded. “Are you hurt?”
The scientists shook their heads. “No, but if we move, then that monster...”
“I will protect you. Get to the door, the rest of the way out is safe enough.”
The pair glanced uncertainly at each other, then the bigger of the two women nodded. “We’re ready when you are.”
He stepped out. Fanatic and Borr were still circling close together, striking and deflecting with unbelievable speed. Tempest made a little gesture with their hand, and the two scientists started to move. Borr spotted them almost immediately, and struck, firing a blast from his fist. Fanatic slashed at his hand, deflecting it upwards, so that the blast hit the wall up above. The scientists yelled as concrete dust showered down, and kept running for the door. When she heard the yell, Fanatic glanced their way for a fraction of a second.
That was all it took. In her moment of distraction, Borr’s fist crashed through Fanatic’s defence, crushing into her breastplate and hurling her across the room. She slammed hard into a wall, stirred for a moment, and lay still.
The sound of running feet told Tempest that the scientists had escaped. That was something – now the only problem was Borr himself. The massive alien was smiling, and walking slowly, inexorably towards Tempest.
“Perhaps you should run away,” he said, voice dripping with false consolation. “Leave your friends to me. It will all be the same soon enough – if you don’t run, I’ll just kill you along with the rest.”
Tempest didn’t bother responding. Instead, they put all their effort into calling up winds, gusts that echoed down the hallways and whirled around the dome, buffeting Borr and, for a moment, stripping away his smug expression. They hurled another chilling blast, tried to lift the monster off the ground…
It wasn’t enough. In this confined space, they couldn’t get nearly the force that they were used to, and Borr was fighting back, plunging a massive fist into the floor and steadying himself. One last, tremendous effort sent loose bits of rubble and metal whirling around, and a short steel bar was ripped free, slamming into Borr’s torso and making him grunt.
Then he tightened his grip for a moment and launched himself forwards. Tempest tried to dodge left, but wasn’t even close to being fast enough. An enormous open hand slapped him down to the ground, and the monster pinned him. The winds went still.
Borr breathed heavily for a few seconds. Then he leaned down close to Tempest, and whispered: “When I kill you, I am going to ruin this place. I will take all the power from this reactor, and use it to level this entire city. I will kill millions of these humans, using the energy you were unable to stop me from possessing. Think on that as you die, little thing.”
Tempest was woozy, their eyes unfocused. They drifted, caught a glimpse of something in the background, and narrowed on it with a strange focus. Just a tight bundle of wires, poking out from the concrete wall, exposed by Borr’s rampage or Tempest’s attacks, sparking against each other in the stale air. It seemed a strange thing for their brain to focus on. Irrelevant.
Then their mind made a sudden leap, and they knew what to do.
Summoning up the last remnants of their strength, they sent a bluish bolt of lighting straight up Borr’s arm and out his back. The shock at least made him let go and stagger back, but a moment later he gave his booming laugh.
“Pathetic. You know your lightning only gives me greater strength. You can do nothing to harm me!”
In answer, Tempest gave another blast, this time directly into his chest. The force of it pushed Borr back, and he roared: “ENOUGH! I’ve had your power, now take some of mine!”
He drew back his massive hands, preparing his energy for one massive strike, then thrust them at Tempest and–
Nothing. The gathering energies dissipated.
“What!?” Borr glared at his hands, betrayed. Another bolt from Tempest recaptured his attention, as once again the lightning shot through him – and straight into the exposed wires, grounding him, draining away his stolen power. He seemed to realise what was happening, at least a little, and when the next strike came he tried to dodge it – but he was too late, too slow, and too weak. The bolt caught him in the arm and drained him, and the next two strikes took the rest of his faltering strength.
He collapsed to a knee, breathing hard, and he glowered, eyes were filled with hate. In the background, the alarms stopped sounding.
“You haven’t beaten me. All you have done is slow me down. You are still pathetic. Still weak.”
A large, winged shadow fell over the monstrous alien, and Fanatic’s glowing eyes glared down at him. They held no pity.
“Tempest is far stronger than you, because theirs is the power of righteousness. You fall this day, as will all enemies of what is good and just, and should you fight us again, you will fall just the same.” And she brought down a heavy armoured fist, knocking him out cold.
In the next few moments, there was only peace and stillness, as the heroes gathered their breath. Then Fanatic turned her gaze to Tempest.
“I know that I am harsh, and that you do not like me. And that is fine. And I will never stop pushing you, and telling you to be better, and if that means that you never like me, then that is also fine. But you fought well today. You fought...bravely. I respect that.”
M’kk nodded solemnly. “Thank you. That is good of you to say. But I don’t dislike you.” Her eyes narrowed, disbelieving, and they qualified; “As you say, I find you can be somewhat punishing, but I know why you fight so hard, and I respect that. Helena, I respect you. And I do think of you as a friend.”
Her face, still rather stony, barely moved. Perhaps someone less practiced at understanding people would have missed it. But they saw her surprise, and it made them sad to think that this woman, this hero, did not expect anyone – not even her closest allies – to be a friend.
They smiled at her, and she very nearly smiled back.
The moment was broken by the sound of running feet in the hallway, and the pair of them turned to face this new potential threat. But the first face through the door was Hugh’s, and when he saw them his face broke into a wide grin. “Oh, thank goodness you’re both alright! When I woke up and nobody else was around, I feared the worst. I’m glad to be wrong. And you’ve beaten Borr, very nicely done!”
Haka and the Adept had come through close on Captain Cosmic’s heels, and as soon as Anthony saw the huge alien he took out his pipes and started to play, the bright notes winding strands of ice around Borr’s wrists and ankles, freezing them together and locking them in place. When the ice was nice and thick, he stopped. “That should stop him from moving too much when he wakes.”
“Excellent,” said Hugh. “And I have some people I can call in to give him more permanent accommodations.”
Haka gazed around the room at all the damage, and then took a measured look over Fanatic and Tempest. “Looks like the two of you did well enough without the rest of us.”
And Tempest glanced at Fanatic, and smiled. “You’re right, I think we did.”